Chapter 18

I stood there, stunned frozen, shocked. I slowly came back to my senses and finally turned to Alex, "I'm sorry for.. all that." I apologized on Lily's behalf for her behavior.

Alex shrugged, looking unbothered, "She seems like an angry soul."

"She's just short. Short people tend to be angry." I said without thinking, waving it off dismissively.

Alex burst out laughing, surprising me slightly as I looked at his laughter grow louder and stronger. He started bending over, clutching his stomach as his stomach scrunched up, howling in laughter so much that I just couldn't help the giggle that escaped my lips.

His laughter was just so contagious that I eventually started laughing along with him too. It was the first time that we laughed together since a long time.

"That was kinda mean." Alex finally said after he took his time sobering up.

It was my turn to shrug, "It's true. She made a meme of it for herself. I'm not creative enough to make something like that up."

Alex chuckled some more, looking at me as if he was trying to decide if he wanted to believe me or not. I kept his gaze and raised an eyebrow, silently telling him to believe whatever he wants.

"Alright, alright." He nodded, leaning on the side of the building as he watched me. "How did you even stumble upon her? Here, of all places. You searching for me?" He asked.

I could feel my face heat up, knowing that he guessed right. Nonetheless, your girl has her pride to protect so she shook her head.

"Nope, just wanted to come to a quiet place so that I can stay away from people's eyes and avoid hearing the rumors that have been flying around." I kicked the wall with my shoe weakly, purposely hanging my head so that I wouldn't accidentally meet his eyes.

"Isn't it the same for you?" I asked, peeking at him from under my lashes.

"I just can't seem to find any fucks to give." He shrugged carelessly.

"Doesn't it bother you that they think you're with me?" I frowned, tilting my head.

Alex gave me a funny look, "Why would I?"

I fell quiet at that. I did not expect that response from him.

"Em, you were the one who would always act out when people thought we were dating, even when we were close back then too." Alex pointed out.

That was true.

I started tilting my head side to side while thinking about what he said before I halted at the realization of something. I stopped moving and turned my head to look at him. Did he just..

I believe it was the first time in 4 years that he would willingly bring the past up without having me initiate the discussion.

I was so surprised by how suddenly and how calmly he brought up our past friendship that, for once, my words failed me.

He hadn't seemed to realize what he was doing, though, since he didn't immediately shut himself up or raise his guards like he usually would when talking about this with me. I've only stopped pestering him for closure on why our friendship ended a year after it did before I finally found it in me to let go and move on. Every time I would try and reconcile with him, trying to get him to remember the good times that we had as best friends, he would just tense up and shut me out. One day, I decided to just ask him the question that had been burning inside me for a long time and get rid of the obsession of trying to be close friends again with him. He had told me that he believed we just grew up to be too different and we just aren't on the same frequency anymore.

I had convinced myself to take that answer and close that chapter of my life, or so I thought. Yet, here I was, still feeling my heart jump in response to hearing him bring up the past and hearing him talk about it as if it was not a big deal.

"Just ignore them. It'll die down in a week just like every other rumor." He said dismissively. He buried his hand into his pocket and rummaged it, looking for something.

"Why did you even fight with your sister?" When he retracted his hand from his pocket, he was already holding a box of cigs and a lighter in his fist.

"You saw why." I sighed.

"Huh?" He looked at me perplexedly.

I gestured to the crushed cig on the ground, "I just found out."

Realization dawned on him as his lips formed an 'O'.

A small smile that I almost missed flashed across his face as he said, "You haven't changed a bit."

Keyword: almost.

I didn't point it out tho, choosing to simply play along. I didn't want to do anything that will prompt him to put his guard up again.

"Yep. Old habits die hard, I guess." I sighed, shrugging, knowing exactly what he was referring to. I remember the falling out that we had when I first found out that he had been lying to me about smoking cigarettes.

I never really thought highly of smoking. I didn't like the smell, I didn't like how teenagers these days glorified the act as if doing it automatically makes you 'cool' when all it really is doing to you is messing up your lungs.

But years ago, when the falling out happened, I knew that the reason our fight escalated so quickly and so greatly was not because of the fact that he smoked. I was just hurt that he would hide it from me for so long before I finally found out about it.

I knew that he hid it from me because of my views on it but I guess back then I wasn't really quite sure on how to handle the revelation and I didn't know how to control my emotions.

People said that once they stopped telling you off for the things that you're doing wrong, it means that they've stopped caring about you.

Does it mean that I still haven't stopped caring after all these years if I had felt the urge to call him out on his bad habit when I saw him take out the box of cigarettes?

Does it still count if I managed to bite my tongue and keep my opinions to myself?

"Can't believe you never tried smoking, though. Don't you ever get tired of living like that? Playing safe all the time? Sticking to the rules, never trying anything crazy?" He waved his unlit cig around between his fingers as he tried to emphasize his point.

I frowned, "Hey, I go crazy all the time. Every time I see a roller coaster ride in an amusement park, I go nuts."

Alex rolled his eyes once, "You know what I mean." He gave me a pointed look as he raised his hands to his face, sticking the cigarette he held between his fingers between his lips and bringing the lighter to the cigarette butt, lighting the small stick.

"Well, no, I guess not. I never felt the need to." I answered truthfully, watching as the flames licked the end of the cigarette. When Alex brought the small fire away from the white rolled paper, the butt of the cigarette glowed red before speckles of orange ember started to flicker and take form before fluttering to the ground.

I reminded myself that it was none of my business and I had no right to start nagging him over what he chooses to do.

He is old enough to make decisions for himself. To smoke or not to smoke.

"Not even when you're stressed?" He asked again, taking a drag and blowing a puff of grey smoke from between his parted lips.

I snorted, "I have my therapist on speed dial for that."

Alex chuckled, small wisps of the leftover smoke escaping his lips with the air he breathed out until he realized I was being dead serious. The amused smile slipped off his face and he let out a small "Oh."

I laughed when he stopped laughing. The look that had taken over the laughter in his eyes was so sombre that I couldn't help but crack up at the sight of it. "It's not like I'm dying. Chill."

I guess what I just did may be counted as dropping a bomb on him since I don't think he knew or have even heard about what happened years ago that landed me in my therapist's clinic since it had happened after we've already drifted away from each other.

Alex looked like he was having an internal battle with himself. I'm sure that he wanted to ask me questions like 'why' but wasn't sure if he had the right to. I simply smiled at him despite knowing all this since I wasn't quite sure if it was right to share these things about me without him asking when we weren't even back to being normal friends.

We got saved from the awkward silence that was bound to entail that revelation when the bell rang, reminding us that it was time to go back to class.

We both turned to face the direction that leads back into the building before I turned my head to look at him.

"Rumors will probably last longer if we're seen walking in together." I pointed out bluntly, knowing that he would understand that I was right.

Alex nodded, agreeing. "Go, I'll wait a few minutes before going in."

I nodded, making my way back first and leaving him behind.

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